Mobilities: landscapes as assemblages

Fig5.8

Mobilities Flow, freedom and movement of human and nonhuman beings acting in the world are constituted as inter-subjective mobilities. Understanding the materiality of mobilities, how bodies flow through places and spaces with and through materials are as Aldred (2014) notes central and important to research on bodies in the landscape:

 How one moves during fieldwork has important consequences for the interpretative process, and presented movement as a conjunction between body and landscape … in order to study movement there is a need to understand it not dialectically, in-between static materials and moving bodies, but rather through the flows in which these two become co-constituent in movement. (Aldred 2014, p. 40)

The landscape is an assemblage with flows of materials running through it, rivers, rocks, earth, sunlight, wind; it is a moving omnipresent not a static backdrop to human or animal activities (Edgeworth, 2014). The high slopes are the most unstable with lake sediment deposits. The higher, steeper slopes are also the wettest; they are by far the most landslide-prone slopes within the city. The houses are swept away, buckled and broken slowly with the earth slumping, the movement edges its way down the valley slope.  Houses containing children slip down the valley. Phenomenon could be described as the intra-action between an object and its surroundings. This intra-action leaves discernible marks on those surrounds so as to constitute them as a measuring apparatus of the intra-action. Barad (2007, p.335) argues:

… apparatuses are not merely human-constructed laboratory instruments that tell us how the world is in accordance with our human-based conceptions. Rather, apparatuses are specific material configurations (dynamic reconfigurings) of the world that play a role in phenomena.

Barad (2007) uses the term ‘intra-action’ to describe how two poles of a phenomenon, the object and the apparatus, do not exist as such apart from their intra-action. What is measured by those marks of intra-action, however, is not a property of the object in isolation, but of the phenomenon as a whole.  In chapter five of the book Children in the Anthropocene I explore the concept of mobilities. I consider how we can think of freedom and movement differently if its ontological roots aren’t located in a pure determinist, phenomenological humanistic paradigm. That is, ‘(f)reedom is not a quality or property of the human subject … but can only characterize a process, an action, a movement that has no particular qualities’ (Grosz 2010, p.147).  Freedom is not then about choice or options, the acquisition of objects – I am free to make choice while others aren’t (Grosz 2010). To be ‘free’ in this sense is a freedom of action, it is connected to ‘embodied being, a being who acts in a world of other beings and objects’ (2010, p.147). Freedom is closely connected then to concepts around movement, the materiality of movement, to the reconfiguring of what comes to be viewed as autonomous acts of freedom.   The children in the three neighbourhoods of La Paz were asked to draw on a map of their movements through the landscape. These marks on the map are as Barad alludes to a ‘measurement of intra-action’ – they record the ongoing dynamics of boundary making (marking) practices of children with the landscape. The marks provide a record of each neighbourhood and how children move differently and together through these landscapes. And as they move with and through and intra-act with objects, they leave traces of their past and present.

Cotahuma

Fig5.6COTmap

Map 1: Mobilities of children becoming with landscapes at Cotahuma

This first map shows the children becoming with landscapes in Cotahuma. The maps provide children’s movement not as autonomous individuals but rather as a collective phenomena of child-city-movements as material dynamic entangled objects becoming through the landscape.  They provide entry points when observing the entangled nature of practice as it unfolds:

[P]athways or trajectories along which improvisatory practice unfolds are not connections, nor do they describe relations between one thing and another. They are rather lines along which things continually come into being. Thus when I speak of the entanglement of things I mean this literally and precisely: not a network of connections but a meshwork of interwoven lines of growth and movement (Ingold 2010, p. 3). 

Elena’s reflects on childhood play in La Paz, she states:

In our free time we played just on the earth, we didn’t have a  play ground we just played with the air, go to the garbage play on the garbage. In my neighbourhood before was so dirty, the river was open and you can smell the water was dirty.  And people other communities use to come to there to throw all the garbage near the river and some factories carry some magazines books to throw out near the river and we as a child use to run to see what they had thrown. Maybe we can get some magazines things like that. That happened when I was 10 years old. I remember always I use to have dirty clothes (Recorded interview 2014).

The spider weaves their threads starting from the centre, building layers by knotting carefully each thread. The boundaries are created by supporting the trailing of loose ends that fall away. The network of lines, the flow of materiality of child-city-movement provides the possibilities for real and imagined journeys where the human and non-human are connected. The defining attribute of a network of flow lines is their potential for connectivity. Ingold (2010) states:

The lines of the spider’s web, for example, unlike those of the communications network, do not connect points or join things up. They are rather spun from materials exuded from the spider’s body and are laid down as it moves about. In that sense they are extensions of the spider’s very being as it trails into the environment. They are the lines along which it lives, and conduct its perception and action in the world ( p. 12). 

Tacgua

Fig5.4TACmap

Map 2: Mobilities of children becoming with landscapes at TacGua

Life, according to Deleuze and Guattari (2004), is developed along thread-lines (Ingold 2010). These thread-lines of life are referred to by them as ‘lines of flight’, or ‘lines of becoming’. Like the markings of the children through the landscapes of La Paz these are not lines that connect; they are the unfolding of possibilities for how materiality is flowing through the spaces between the earth and the walking. A freedom of flow is taking up agency through child-earth becoming. The ‘thing’ the gathering together of lines of flight is according to Ingold (2010) is how Deleuze and Guattari explain the concept of a  “haecceity” (2004, p. 290).  The haecceity or thisness of things is represented through this mapping of collective lines of flight. At the centre of the Tac Gua map we can see a number of swirling lines centred around a particular object. The object is the play and sports space – it is also the centre where we held our workshops. Running vertical to these the crooked lines illustrate the staircases where children can exit to the top of the valley and ravine into the El Alto or horizontally outwards into the forested disused vacant blocks where the valley is so steep constructing houses or stairs is impossible or what was there has now been lost; washed away by a landslide. Walking, walking, carrying, carrying, puffing, puffing – up the steep staircases. The pathways are empty. Bare dirt fills the spaces in between. Hidden from view, the narrow walkways look our across the valley.

fig5.5

Stairs as lines of flight 

A line of becoming’, Deleuze and Guattari (20write:

… is not defined by the points it connects, or by the points that compose it; on the contrary, it passes between points, it comes up through the middle … A becoming is neither one nor two, nor the relation of the two; it is the in-between, the … line of flight …  

Children’s movement and freedom as represented through their intra-acting with and through the dirt, dust and water of the ravines provides insights into the materiality of being with the earth through an embodied reality of moving through place. It is not the place or destination that is central to these child-city-movements but a mobile materiality that allows the child’s entangled world to be revealed Or as Ingold (2010, p. 3) entices us to consider, ‘a focus on life-processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials’.

Munaypata 

Fig5.2MUNmap

Map 3: Mobilities of children becoming with landscapes at Munaypata

The marks on the landscape portray the messy flowing streets of Munaypata following the valley terrain and the means through which children have individually and collectively devised complex pathways through the congested urban landscape. The steep crammed valley; with houses built on top of each, providing no space or paths or roads creates. The heavy flows of movement are connected to activities within streets, open areas, parks, playgrounds, and sporting fields.

Elena’s reflections on a childhood with dirt and landslides:

I walked. I always walked I never took the car or bus.  Because the road I use to go was hilly and when it was the season of raining – the road was earth, the road was slippery and I use to fall down and I remember my shoes were always were dirty with all the earth. With the earth that’s what it was like. We get access to the football field, was field near the river too and we use to go and play and run or play football. We didn’t get access to a good real playground it was too far away

When I was a child there was a landslide. My house was on the edge where all the other houses near me all fall down. Ours was the only one left. We stayed in that house on the edge of cliff for five years after that. When my house was on top of the edge my mum and me still stayed there but my bedroom did not have a door – we had a small place to walk but my porch and the other part of the house fall down. We just put some wood and have to use a ladder up the cliff to get to the house. We had to carry the water it was very difficult. In that house I was very sacred. When it starts raining I am afraid scare maybe the house will landslide again. I had my packed ready to go some I have to take it with me. (Recorded interview 2014).

The flowing in and out of the central area that is the neighbourhood of Munaypata tracks the means through which children enter in and out of the space along the ravine edges to move downtown to where the schools are and where their parents are working. They return back up the ravines to the neighbourhood where they find small areas of open space, some earth to play out of eyeshot of adults who may have presented risks. Sheller and Urry (2006, p. 217) argue while much of the research on movement is conducted at a distance it should also be equally concerned with ‘the patterning, timing and causation of face-to-face copresence’.

The texture of the ground, steep slopes, loose earth; the weather wind, rain, darkness; vegetation forests, woodlands; and the others that we share the ground with all influence and force certain types of movements, freedoms, constraints and mobilities (Leary 2015). And as Ingold and Vergunst (2008) remind us we are in relation with a world teeming with a vast array of non-human animal life, all of which influence how we move, with whom we move through the landscape and the trails we leave behind (Leary 2015). Gibson argued many years ago through his affordance theory that animals and humans stood in  ‘systems’ or ‘ecological’ relation to the environment, such that to adequately explain some behaviour it was necessary to study the environment or niche in which these entangled relations took place.  Humans like other animals know the world through moving and acting in it. Therefore they exist in a dynamic relational system with their surroundings –  humanity has relied on this system of human-non-human place relation longer then this short epoch of the anthropocene where we have sought to reconstitute human as separate/outside of nature… unpacking the diversity of children’s mobilities and how these are embedded and embodied in the everyday-ness of being in relation to the materiality and aliveness of ‘things’ in the city seems timely as an essential ingredient for the story of growing up in the Anthropocene.

 

References

Aldred, J 2014, ‘Past movements, tomorrow’s anchors. On the relational entanglements between archaeological mobilities’ in Past mobilities: archaeological approaches to movement and mobility, J Leary (ed.), Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, pp. 21-48.

Barad, K 2007, Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Duke University Press, Durham & London.

Deleuze, G & Guattari, F 2004, A Thousand plateaus, trans. B Massumi, Continuum, London.

Edgeworth, M 2014, Enmeshments of shifting landscapes and embodied movements of people and animals, in Past mobilities: archaeological approaches to movement and mobility, J Leary (ed.), Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham, pp. 49-62.

Grosz, E 2010, ‘Feminism, materialism, and freedom’ in New materialisms: ontology, agency and politics, D Coole & S Frost, S (eds), Duke University Press, Durham & London, pp. 139-157.

Ingold, T 2010, Bringing things to life: creative entanglements in a world of materials. National Centre for Research Methods, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.

Ingold, T & Vergunst, J 2008, Ways of walking: ethnography and practice on foot, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham.

Leary, J. (ed) 2015, Past mobilities: archaeological approaches to movement and mobility, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham.

Sheller, M & Urry, J 2006, ‘The new mobilities paradigm’, Environment and Planning A, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 207-226, doi: 10.1068/a37268.

This blog post is a modified extract of chapter 5 in the recently published book by the author Children in the Anthropocene. This is a Palgrave book published in the book series Childhood and Development. To find out more details or to purchase a copy of this chapter in full or the whole book you can find the information at the following Palgrave website:  http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137430908

Exploring the Anthropocene as an unsettling ontology

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We are an incredible force of nature. Humans have the power to heat the planet further or to cool it right down, to eliminate species and to engineer entirely new ones, to re-sculpt the terrestrial surface and to determine its biology. No part of this planet is untouched by human influence – we have transcended natural cycles, altering physical, chemical and biological processes- Gaia Vince, The Guardian, September 2015

While the term ‘Anthropocene’ (the epoch of the hu/man), has been accepted in the geological discipline landscape, there has been much debate about where the boundaries lie that would mark the arrival of this new epoch. Was it the Industrial revolution in the 18th Century or the ‘great acceleration’ of the mid 20th century with its increasing population growth, carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, plastic production and start of the nuclear age with atomic bombs spreading detectable radiation to every strata of the planet (Davies 2016). The Anthropocene as used in my research is more than this, more than a timeline of human degradation or techno-positivist hubris. The Anthropocene reveals beyond the damage that there is no homogenous human race and that this scale of ecological impact is unequal, unethical and unjust; the poor, the children, and the nonhuman are more in it than the wealthy.

The term Anthropocene, has not emerged uncontested. Donna Haraway (and many others), have argued the naming of the Anthropocene constructs a certain model of the globe, a view that ‘the contemporary world is a human species act’ (Haraway et. al 2015, p. 1). She argues: ‘…in this moment of beginning to get a glimmer of how truly richly complex the world is and always has been, someone has the unmitigated arrogance to name it the Anthropocene’ (Haraway et. al 2015, p. 11). Nils Bubandt responding to Haraway acknowledges the disputed nature of the term but adds it has provided the opportunity for a galvanizing in academia:

 …the Anthropocene is a polluted concept, it is a contested concept, it is a problematic concept for all kinds of reasons. At the same time, it might still be utilized to do useful work, to galvanize already emergent forms of thinking and acting in academia. For instance, one could claim that it disrupts the global hierarchy of sciences. After all, it comes as an invitation to collaboration from the ‘hard sciences’, from the apex of the hierarchy of sciences, to the human and social sciences (Haraway et. al 2015, p. 14).

For many scholars in the humanities, especially education, these arguments should compel us to ask what is the role of education within the challenges this naming of the Anthropocene provides? As more come to recognize the impact of the new epoch will there be a clarion call for considering new ways that bring into question how we engage and educate with the ‘planet’ (including all nonhuman others) and how the ‘planet’ engages and educates with us?

This realization of the possibilities and implications of the events foregrounded in the era of the Anthropocene are compelling and while the concept is contested, in its contestation it evokes a desire in me to consider the enormous challenges its presents for all earthlings.  The Anthropocene, as expressed through the everyday, entangled lives of children growing up with a host of others in degraded city landscapes is the focus of my new research project and book: Children in the Anthropocene (Malone 2018). The key focus of this work is to consider how children (especially those in urban and less privileged positions) are implicated in discussions of the Anthropocene and how to represent and educate about these urban lives differently.

Gaia Vince writes cities are ‘microcosms of the planet fashioned for our [human] species and no other’ (2014, p. 338). Endeavouring to exist in this ‘entirely synthetic human creations’ are the children and nonhuman others whose stories appear as central to my research narratives but are mostly invisible in the techno-fixes of greening capitalism.  Theirs is the story of the great global urban migration – an outlier of the Anthropocene. Starting from a slow urban drift in past generations to what we see now; a massive tidal wave of humanity headed to live in the ambiguous spaces of some of the world’s largest cities, where often only traces of our pre-human existence.

City children are the most disadvantaged human group in the Anthropocene. They will not only grow up in the height of the Anthropocene; they will inherit its consequences.  Cities throughout human history have been difficult and risky places for children, with urban childhoods being played out in crowded, polluted environments, with limited opportunities to engage with nature, animals or other nonhuman elements. Living on the urban fringes of major cities in developing countries many children and their families live in poverty, exposed daily to a host of challenges. These challenges often contribute to a child’s inability to more freely and safely in order to play or work, or access schools and medical services.    But these issues for children are not new.

The argument supporting a recent child-city-nature disconnect relies on a belief that past generations of children had a closer and more intimate relation with the planet and de-emphasizes what has been ‘a long history of urban environmental degradation and childhood disconnectedness where the experience of being a child in the environment’ has not always been a positive one. This is especially true of the invisible childhoods of eighty percent of the world’s children who are not living white middle class western imagine lives (Malone 2017).

That is, the Anthropocene and its impact on children and nonhuman lives has been a work in progress since industrialisation. Over many generations of living being’s children and our nonhuman kin have suffered the most. As a capitalist project sacrificing a future life for the planet through its unrelenting desires for resources, it has been a measure of self-adulation of the human species positioning itself as earthly master. Working or living near factories; being exposed to pollutants in the soil, air, water; the loss of places to live due to rising sea levels; the impact of natural disasters; dying from radiation, these have all been the experiences of those species living on a planet in the face of an impending ecological crisis.  The Anthropocene reminds us we live on this damaged landscape; our porous bodies are susceptible to the contamination; our seemingly secure homes and jobs vulnerable; and with the likelihood of extinction of our species and a host of others impending – our future seems grim.

The Children in the Anthropocene book explores the everyday lives of children who reside in these fragile city environments. Education, health services, employment, shelter, food and water have become alluring possibilities that large urban environments bequeath an impoverished rural child. Through the global projects of ‘sustainability’ cities have become the ‘solution to the ecological crisis’, the problems of the age of humans fixed through human ingenuity. Cities proclaimed as the means for providing shelter and resources for the steadily increasing human populations, have placed us in conflict with planetary ecologies. Under the auspices of a capitalist apparatus on sustainable development and green capitalism; the rural and indigenous persons have been encouraged/forced to move from a country taken up by the corporates machine, on the dream of a better life.  Despite the hardships encountered, the draw is great, the Anthropocentric urban revolution promised children a healthier, educated life. But the lure of the city and the call of the Anthropocene, hasn’t always delivered its promises. Children in the Anthropocene seeks to reveal the complexities of children’s lives entangled with each other, their families, the communities of humans and the collective of human-nonhuman that are tied together; knotted in knots in intricate ecological communities in cities. They are revealing stories, illustrating the potential for a different way of being with the planet, one that is often invisible within the dominant humanist project.

Therefore, as an unsettling ontology that disrupts the persistent ‘humanist’ paradigm in disciplines such as education the concept of the Anthropocene allows new conversations to happen around human-dominated global change; human exceptionalism; and the nature/culture divide (Lloro-Bidart 2015). The Anthropocene rather than just scientific facts, verifiable through stratigraphic or climatic analyses, becomes a ‘discursive development’ that problematizes a humanist narrative of progress that has essentially focused on the mastery of nature, domination of the biosphere, and ‘placing God-like faith in technocratic solutions’ (Lloro-Bidart 2015, p.132). A useful heuristic device for gaining a deeper understanding of how we ‘humans’ have come to locate ourselves as master of a 4.5 billion year old planet when we have existed for the mere blink of an eyelid.  Gan et. al. (2017, p. G5) encourage us through our storying of the Anthropocene to ‘track histories that make multispecies livability possible’ by wandering ‘through landscapes, where assemblages of the dead gather together with the living’. They remind us the traces of the past live on through those kin who are amongst us; disasters and devastation formed our present; and that hope lies in considering these many pasts, as part of our future.

Are we on the final steps to sealing the fate of a myriad of species, including our own? Will the damaged landscapes left behind hold only thin traces of the human/nonhuman histories through which ecologies have been made and unmade? (Gan, Tsing, Swanson & Bubandt 2017). The naming of the Anthropocene, acknowledges this incredible force and nowhere is this impact more dramatic then in cities, and no species has more to lose then our children.

References

Davies, J. (2016). The Birth of the Anthropocene. California: University of California Press.

Gan, E, Tsing, A, Swanson, H, and Bubandt, N. (2017). Introduction: Haunted landscapes of the Anthropocene, in Tsing, A, Swanson, H, Gan, E, and

Bubandt, N. (eds) Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, University of Minnesota Press: USA.

Haraway, D., Ishikawa, N., Gilbert, S. F., Olwig, K., Tsing, A. L., & Bubandt, N. (2015). Anthropologists Are Talking – About the Anthropocene. Ethnos, 81(3), 535- 564.  https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2015.1105838

Lloro-Bidart, T. (2015). A Political Ecology of Education in/for the Anthropocene. Environment and Society: Advances in Research, 6(1), 128–148. http://journals.berghahnbooks.com/environment-and-society.

Lorimer, J. (2012). Multinatural Geographies for the Anthropocene. Progress in Human Geography, 36(5), 593–612. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132511435352.

Malone, K. (2017). Ecological Posthumanist Theorising: Grappling with Child-Dog-Bodies. In K. Malone, S. Truong, & T. Gray (Eds.), Reimagining Sustainability in Precarious Times. Singapore: Springer.

Malone, K. (2018) Children in the Anthropocene, Palgrave, UK.

Vince, G. (2014). Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made, Canada: Milkweed Editions.

Vince, G. (2015, September 25). Humans Have Caused Untold Damage to the Planet. The Guardian. Viewed 1 March 2016. http://www.theguardian.com

Further information email Dr. Karen Malone  k.malone@westernsydney.edu.au

 Children in the Anthropocene book available: http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137430908

Project Website: www.childrenintheanthropocene.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ChildreninAnthropocene/

This post is a summarised extract from the introduction chapter of the book Children in the Anthropocene and a summary of the speech given by Karen Malone (the author) at the book launch on 24 October 2017 @ Western Sydney university. The book is due to be released by Palgrave in mid-November, 2017.

Researching Children in the Anthropocene

Nothing epitomizes the precarious nature of the planet for me, then the view as you fly from the high mountain plateaus of the Altiplano towards the El Alto airport and see spread out in front of you the immense sprawling valley where the city of La Paz is perilously situated. The image of a vastness of crowded slum communities perched on the high reaches of the escarpment and spilling down into the steep, treeless, ravines and gorges of the valley are breath taking. The Anthropocene, a human imprint at a global-scale. A fragility of children and their nonhuman companions engaged in a dance of daily survival with shared vulnerability. The unsettling that the naming of the Anthropocene has administered – and will continue to administer – is a massive jolt to our collective imagination of ourselves. the irony we as a species, amongst others, find ourselves: both as the monster and maker. The concept of the Anthropocene assumes a generalized anthropos, whereby all humans and nonhumans are equally implicated and all equally affected. Through my research I seek to bring attention to the way the environmental crisis accentuates rather than diminishes differences between the privileged and the not so privileged. Because we are not all in the Anthropocene together, the children are far more in it than others. Wealthy humans have cultivated a global landscape of inequality in which they find their advantages multiplied in these highly fragile times. Philosophically, it is a concept that works both for us and on us. In its unsettlement of the entrenched binaries of modernity (nature/culture; object /subject), and its provocative alienation of familiar anthropocentric scales and times, it opens up a number of possibilities for exploring concepts such as assemblages, relations and kin. The research project Children in the Anthropocene is premised on the import of making kin, the ‘situatedness’ of being child relative to, and combined with ‘other’ kin. That we are all beings in common, entangled, sharing ecologically our posthumanist selves.

Stories that Matter
Throughout the past 20 years I have listened intently to children’s stories by noticing and paying attention to their experiences of growing up in relation with others (human and non-human). The research was both ethnographic and participatory in its methodology. To be responsive, place-based participatory research engaged by the researcher with children is attentive to noticing the fine grain differences and similarities, it seeks to encourage complexity rather than simplicity. When engaging with children in precarious environments this responsiveness supports opportunities for children from a variety of ages and genders, diverse lives, interests and experiences to take up and make choices of their responses to the possibilities that exist to engage with the research.

Children I researched with on the higher reaches of the valley of La Paz were aged between 5 and 15 years old. They volunteered to be co-researchers using visual, oral and mobile place-based research activities including photography, interviews, focus groups, drawings, mapping and walking interviews. The project focused on incorporating a research perspective through their everyday experiences of being curious, creative and playful in their place so supporting a range of possibilities for children to document relational encounters. For some communities in La Paz the children’s research workshop included opportunities for families to be involved. Parents or grandparents, brothers, sisters, cousins especially in the beginning, came along to watch, ask questions and even help out. Ethical considerations of negotiating children involvement meant working in outreach children’s centres in the community where months in advance social work students had provided information workshops and small meetings for children and their parents. As a feminist onto-ethnographer, I have also inserted myself in the research studies by documenting my experiences through a field diary, photographs and videos.

Theoretically, I have adopted an onto-epistemological research stance that assumes epistemology and ontology are mutually implicated ‘because we are of the world’, not standing outside of it. The theory of ecological posthumanism I have adopted contests the arrogance of anthropocentric/humanistic approaches, by enabling a multiplicity of ecologies where humans are neither exempt or exceptional, we are all beings in common. By adopting a stance of vital new materiality, I have sought to acknowledge the aliveness of matter; that it is always more than mere matter: it is active, self-creative, productive, unpredictable. I have employed the theoretical device of ‘intra-action’ and ‘diffraction’ as used in new rmaterialism to support the documenting of the messy, heterogeneous relations between children and their nonhuman world. By enacting a posthumanist and new materialist reading of the Children in Anthropocene project, I have shifted away from the child as the central object of my gaze. I am being attentive to and noticing the non-human entities through which the children’s world is being encountered, where relational entanglement with material matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers. I am attuning to matter, where all of it matters.

It matters what matters we use to think other matters with;
It matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with;
It matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what ties tie ties.
It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories (Donna Haraway, 2011, p. 4)

We have much to learn from children about their everyday encounters with the humans and nonhumans they co-inhabit cities with. Emerging as an assemblage of naturecultures their stories are stories that matter, they are located at a range of times, enmeshed in complex spaces and are deeply vital at a molecular level. By sharing an imagined future, that supports an ecological posthumanist collective and senses the value of considering others as kin and beings in common, children have much to contribute in our shared stories of the Anthropocene. After all they have the most to lose, if we do nothing.

References
Haraway, D 2011, SF: science fiction, speculative fabulation, string figures, so far’, viewed 30 January 2014, <http://people.ucsc.edu/~haraway/Files/PilgrimAcceptanceHaraway.pdf&gt;.

Entangled Ecologies

‘If our species does not survive the ecological crisis, it will probably be due to our failure to imagine and work out new ways to live with the earth, to rework ourselves and our high energy, high consumption, and hyper-instrumental societies adaptively…. We will go onwards in a different mode of humanity, or not at all’ (Val Plumwood 2007:1)

Cities are central sites for reconfiguring, reimagining human-nature encounters in the Anthropocene. The city constitutes a powerful imaginary of the human-nature disconnect and therefore brings credence and attention to our seemingly de-natured lives. Cities represent the effects of the human dominance over ‘nature’; humans in control, taming and managing the wildness of the natural world. Keeping nature out.

Earlier in my research I remember writing about ‘urban sustainability’ as having the potential to disrupt the nature-culture divide, by offering up visions of a ‘balance’, how humans and non-humans could co-exist in eco/green/biophilic/cities. Guided by theories of biophilia, my designs of an imagined eco-green cities were based on the hypothesis that humans (and particularly children) possessed an innate desire to seek close relations with nature and other forms of life, and if only we could ‘let’ nature back into cities we could nurture this desire. Humans, (especially children) in this biophilic world, could be re-constituted, re-inserted with and re-embedded as a significant other in the natural world. Biophilic cities would be abundant with ‘nature’; cities could be places where humans nurtured protected, restored and grew nature. Children could play, find refuge and develop kin relations. They would look different; the presence of an abundance of plants, would foster deep connections and daily contact between the humans and the non-human world. Such aspirations of a natured urban sustainability have been increasingly augmented, or framed within neo-liberal agenda of sustainability, by notions of ‘resilient cities’ ‘livable cities’, ‘healthy cities’, ‘sustainable cities’ and claimed through human ingenuity  ‘human smartness’, in which human agency became at best assertive, reactive, or even dissolved within a process of recursive co-adaptation. My growing suspicion of the restorative value of this anthropocentric environmentalism informing an urban sustainability movement (of which biophilic theories were deeply located) was based on its seemingly limited and narrow conception that nature was (only) of value because of its ‘material and commodity benefits’ for humans (Kellert & Wilson 1993). And we ‘humans’ although valuing the potential of nature for our own health and longevity as a species, weren’t nature. Around the world big actions, by corporate companies to build shining examples of ‘green’ skyscrapers in high income nations didn’t fit well with my experiences of children thrown-together in the messy, dirty and untamed environments of slums. The places where we know the majority of the world actually resides.

As I came to spend more time with children in these ‘brown’ communities, I was critically aware of the limitations of western centric definitions of deep ecology, environmentalism and gaia-ism that felt to intensify the cartesian divide of nature-culture and produce a sanitised view of nature controlled once again solely for the benefit of the human species. Then I read Staying with the Trouble by Donna Haraway.  In a passage in chapter 2 she unpacks Isabelle Stengers work on the intrusion of Gaia from her writings Au temps des catastrophes (2009) and the relation of Gaia to Chaos (see Priogogine and Stengers 1984), Haraway concludes with:

Earth/Gaia is maker and destroyer, not resource to be exploited or ward to be protected or nursing mother promising nourishment. Gaia is not a person but complex systemic phenomena that compose a living planet. Gaia’s intrusion into our affairs is a radically materialist event that collects multitudes. This intrusion threatens not earth itself – microbes will adapt, to put it mildly – but threatens the liveability of earth for vast kinds., species, assemblages, and individuals in an ‘event’ already underway called the Sixth Great Extinction. (Haraway, 2016, p. 43)

Gaia theory for example when first proposed in the mid-seventies by James Lovelock described the planet and all its cohabitants including the environment as acting as a single, unified, self-regulating system. This system included the near-surface rocks, the soil, and the atmosphere. This theory then evolved to present the role of humans as a keystone species whose role was accomplish a global homeostasis. Ecosystems are huge and complex. They contain networks of animals, plants, fungi, and various microorganisms. All of these lifeforms interact and affect one another.  Having some form of equilibrium, this balance, was the focus of a green biophilic cities through sustainable development. But even Lovelock who dreamed the gaian vision of a harmonious world has been documented as saying greening our cities is far too late now to have any long time value.  In a speech to the Royal Society, on 29 October 2007, Lovelock finished with:

Perhaps the saddest thing is that if we fail Gaia will lose as much or more than we do. Not only will wildlife and whole ecosystems go extinct but in human civilization the planet has a precious resource. We are not merely a disease; we are through our intelligence and communication the planetary equivalent of a nervous system. We should be the heart and mind of the Earth not its malady. Perhaps the greatest value of the Gaia concept lies in its metaphor of a living Earth, which reminds us that we are part of it and that our contract with Gaia is not about human rights alone, but includes human obligations (retrieved http://www.jameslovelock.org/page24.html)

In the posthuman world of new materialism, actor-network theory and posthumanism many theorists posit that creativity and agency will still exist, but that they will no longer be the property of humans alone (Chandler 2013).  Rather agency, and this case children’s agency to respond to the environmental crisis will become a product of the assemblages, associations and relationships through which they are connected and attached to the more-than-human world. By moving away from an explanation of children’s environmental encounters from a humanist perspective where we: “…understand and act in the world on the basis of our separation from it – articulated in the constraining, alienating and resentment-filled modernists divides of human/nature, subject/object, culture, environment”, a posthumanist approach allows a consideration of how we, ‘should develop our understandings around our attachment to the world’ (Chandler 2013: 516). That is,

To respond to the big picture challenges of sustainability… twenty-first century children need relational and collective dispositions, not individualistic ones, to equip them to live within the kind of world they have inherited …They will need a firm sense of shared belonging and shared responsibility …  They will need to build upon a foundational sense of connectivity to this same natureculture collective (Taylor 2013, p.118).

Entangled nature in La Paz

The children in the neighbourhoods high on the El Alto have tremendous views across the valley all the way to Mount Illimani. Mount Illimani is the highest mountain in the Cordillera Real, a sub range of the Andes and stands at 6,438 metres above sea level. It lays south of La Paz at the eastern edge of the Altiplano. With its snowed capped summit visible from across the city of La Paz it acts as a significant landmark and its connection to the lives of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding countryside is deeply entrenched in Bolivian heritage and culture. Bolivia is a landlocked country separated from the Pacific Ocean by Chile. Bolivia had a coastline, but its former coastline is now Chilean territory.  The Bolivian terrain includes the rugged Andes Mountains that includes a highland plateau where La Paz and Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake) are located. There are also the rolling hills, large expansive rivers that flow into the lowland plains of the Amazon Basin. Some of the major environmental issues for the country include the clearing of land for agricultural purposes and international demand for tropical timber, both of which are contributing to deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, loss of biodiversity, and industrial pollution of water supplies used for drinking and irrigation. The city of La Paz is located in west-central Bolivia, 42 miles (68km) southeast of Lake Titicaca and is at an elevation of between 10,650 and 13,250 feet (3250 and 4100 metres) above sea level. This makes it the highest national capital city in the world.  La Paz is near the famous mountains including the Illimani (guardian of La Paz), Huayna Potosi, Mururata, and Illampu. On the western side of the Altiplano divide, about an hour to the west of the La Paz, is the site of the tallest mountain in Bolivia and ninth tallest mountain in the Andes, the Sajama Volcano.

The Pachamama influences children’s worldview in La Paz, it is one where the earth deserves and is provided with the same ethical and political considerations as humans. Children’s encounters with the shared ecologies of the mountain are central to their stories of living and being with other entities in the city. The majority of children of the slums of La Paz although living in a very altered environment were deeply embedded in the potential of intra-acting with the natural environment. This was not an imagined romantic nature, a wooded forest with birds and butterflies; but a difficult, dirty, gritty world of living with others through shared material matter. For the boys especially, adventures into the hill top forests are an important part of their play activities even though it can be dangerous. Girls have less freedom and tend to be limited to engaging with the trees in gardens close to their homes. The shared encounters of Mount Illimani and its impact on all children’s sense of connection to place are very unique. This aesthetic openness to the mountains, the clouds, the weather drew them into a oneness, yet it wasn’t a sense of wonder of nature as ‘extraordinary’, is was of being one with the world, being entangled in shared ecologies of the everyday. The image is from Fernando aged 11 from Munaypata.  He describes his drawing to me: ‘I like to see my area green. I am inside in this picture. I don’t go out by myself. I go out on weekends. I like to walk. I don’t like cars. I like everything that is natural. I like rainbows, when I went to Copacabana I liked seeing rainbows. I like walking through the woods because it is like a jungle’.

Children in La Paz are deeply entangled in a relation with their natural world.  This is not just a worldly present relation but a deeply entrenched history of reverence and respect for nature and the earth that has evolved through their indigenous spiritual beliefs of the Pachamama. (Pachma meaning ‘cosmos’ and mama meaning ‘mother’). In the indigenous philosophy of the Andean people, the Pachamama is a goddess. She is Mother Earth. She sustains life on earth. Water, Earth, Sun, and Moon are Mother Earth’s four Quechuan cosmological entities.  When I was staying in La Paz the local newspaper had a quote from the Foreign Minister about the new law on the rights of Mother Nature. I asked my colleague to translate. Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.  Bolivia has passed the world’s first law to grant eleven new rights for nature. Mother Earth is described in the law as ‘a dynamic living system comprising an indivisible community of all living systems and living organisms, interrelated, interdependent and complementary, which share a common destiny’ (Bolivian Legislative Assembly 2011, p.2). The Law of the rights of Mother Earth includes the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities (Bolivian Legislative Assembly 2011).

Bolivia will struggle, like many countries, to cope with rising temperatures, melting glaciers and more extreme weather events including more frequent floods, droughts, frosts and mudslides, that are often outside of their control. The steady rising of temperatures we are experiencing now (which has no borders) and which continues to accelerate could turn much of Bolivia into a desert. Glaciers in Bolivia below 5,000m, for example, are expected to disappear by 2030, leaving Bolivia with a much smaller ice cap. Scientists say this will lead to a crisis in farming and water shortages in cities such as La Paz and El Alto.

Childhood Ecologies

Children’s encounters and relations with the environment influence their lives. They are central to their stories of living and being in their cities. The majority of children growing up in the slums of La Paz although in a built very altered environment were deeply embedded in the potential of intra-acting with the natural environment.  The encounters with Mount Illimani and its impact on their sense of connection to place are very unique. Children shared photographs from their viewing point, a place where they would go to be with the mountain, especially at sunset. I sense they know the mountain as kin, as part of their being child in this collective of eclectic ecologies. In the practices of walking with children within these entangled worlds, we notice and attune to the damaged landscapes of the Anthropocene.

By shifting away from the child in nature as the only agential body and focusing on the materiality of child bodies and the bodies of other non-human entities as relational assemblages allows a new ethical imagining for children and their encounters with place and nature. In my research I have sought to reframe the importance of children’s childhood experiences as central to their role as collective agents with other beings in reconfiguring a potential beyond the current sustainable green cities of a neo-liberal white middle class politics. Like the findings of Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw (2015), children’s sharing of their ideas about nature is an acknowledgement that:

…learning through encounters with other species is not always harmonious and pleasant, is not always equal, and does not offer us “moral certitudes or simple escape routes” from the mess we are in (p. 20).

The potential to extend ‘ecology’ beyond a hierarchical anthropomorphic structure to “uncover a whole world of resonances and resemblances” (Bennett 2010: 113). This opening up (beyond anthropomorphism) allows opportunities for the nature/culture divide to be reconsidered as ‘ecological collective’ – containing active agents of human and nonhuman elements. For educators, it allows openings for posthuman pedagogies that consider relations between material objects to be reassigned as a ‘vital (vibrant) kinship’ between the human and nonhuman (Bennett 2010). Such an approach therefore may lay the foundations for a recasting of learning about sustainability. For others involved in city planning or childhood support services, it encourages them to be attentive to, notice and acknowledge rather than dismiss the means through which children are encountering nature in their everyday lives.  Supporting difference and complexity within child-nature relations by supporting a posthumanist approach to addressing the challenges of the Anthropocene, I have argued in my recent work on Children in the Anthropocene is central to supporting posthumanist ecological communities.

References

Bennett, J. 2010, Vibrant matter. A political ecology of things, Duke University Press, Durham.

Bolivian [Plurinational] Legislative Assembly 2011, The Act of the rights of Mother Earth, viewed 3 May 2016, .

Chandler, D. 2013, The World of Attachment? The Post-humanist Challenge to Freedom and Necessity, Millennium – Journal of International Studies, 41, 3, 516-534. 

Haraway, D. 2016, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Duke University Press, Durham

Kellert, S & Wilson, E.O. (eds)1993, The Biophilia Hypothesis, Island Press: Washington.

Plumwood , V. . 2007, A review of Deborah Bird Rose’s Reports from a wild country: Ethics of decolonisation. Australian Humanities Review 42, August, p. 1 – 4

Taylor, A. 2013. Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. Oxon & London: Routledge.

Taylor, A & Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. 2015, Learning with children, ants, and worms in the Anthropocene: towards a common world pedagogy of multispecies vulnerability, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 507-529, doi: 10.1080/14681366.2015.1039050.

This blog post is an extract from the chapter Ecologies: Entangled Nature from my current Palgrave book: Children in the Anthropocene: Rethinking Sustainability and the Child Friendliness of Cities.